Industry Update
Opinion Article 7 December 2015

Creating Digital Marketing Magic - and Why It Often Fails for Hotels

By Babs Harrison, Managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners

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Digital marketing is exactly what a hotelier - especially an independent - needs to succeed today. So why do so many digital marketing campaigns sputter, and I have seen some do exactly that.


That's the paradox. Digital marketing is the ideal but often it seems a sloppy mess of random keyword purchases, retargeting that borders on stalking, and big misses of what has to loom as the key channel for hotels in 2016.

Here is what many digital marketing campaigns are missing: a classical marketing bedrock. Read that again. What I am saying is that without a classical marketing backbone, digital marketing is often just a mess of confusion.

Digital marketers - many of them - are more digerati than marketers. They know their SEO, how to effectively bid and buy Google keywords, and how to put up content on social media channels. What they lack, however, is classical marketer smarts that pinpoint who this hotel's customers are (audience) and what this hotel's unique selling proposition is. Classical marketers know that audience definition and message shaping are where all effective marketing starts.

Digital marketers often start instead with a deep dive into the tall weeds of technology.

Not their fault. Where the fault - as I have seen it - usually lies is with hotel management that doesn't say, wait a minute. Here is what we know about our guest, and here is why guests book us (our USP). A classical marketer also knows the guest's journey to booking, how long does it take, how many stops along the way?

Knowing those basics matter because when you know them, you will know exactly how to craft and shape the digital marketing tools you want to deploy.

It seems obvious. But it often is neglected. One hotel in, say, Old Town Scottsdale may find great success pursuing Millennial guests. But that probably won't bring the desired results to, say, a Paradise Valley hotel just a few miles away but a vastly different culture and mindset.

When there is a real partnership between classical marketing and digital marketing, magic happens.

I am all in on rethinking much of what classical marketing has focused on - print advertising, staged photography, printed brochures, and the like, especially for independents with limited marketing spend.

Think differently and you free up budget for the areas that should be winning your attention and, yes, they are all from the digital playbook. Such as?

  • A mobilized website. All the research sees mobile assuming an ever more important role in travel booking. Now is the time to insure that guests can find what they want on your mobile site. Really track and measure user experience.
  • Budgeting for paid search (Google keywords) and also for Facebook ads and post boosts.
  • Know what SEO will help attract more visitors that matter to you. (Guided by the classical marketing basics.)
  • Be active on Facebook, Instagram, probably Pinterest (especially for weddings), probably Twitter.
  • Have a thought-out reputation management plan, for TripAdvisor and (optionally) Yelp. Neglect other channels if need be. You can't neglect TripAdvisor.
  • Create a retargeting strategy that aims to close prospective guests who abandoned the booking process before completion. Maybe they have booked elsewhere but very probably they are simply doing a bit more due diligence before buying. Keep your property top of their mind with smart retargeting.
  • Intelligently use email newsletters - especially good to communicate with past guests - but spend on content. A lot of hotel e-newsletters are bad marcom bilge. Just don't. Readable, lively e-newsletters - tailored to the interests of your guests - will do their jobs, Spend on good content and you should see results (more engaged readers).
  • Measure, measure, measure. Know what results you are getting for your digital marketing spend.

The other must do - continually: always cycle back to what you know about your guests, your USP, and your guests' journey to booking. Do the digital tactics proceed from a deep understanding of who your guests are and why they stay with you?

Remember the 2016 winning formula is just this: align classical marketing with digital to score wins. It's that simple.

Babs Harrison

Babs Harrison is managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners, a boutique public relations/marketing consultancy for select luxury resorts, hotels, and spas. Harrison has 25 years of experience in hospitality and has worked with leading brands in the US and internationally .

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